Chapter 19 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 19

Lying naked on a bed with Alicia would normally be an erotic experience with an exciting and passionate conclusion. This day, however, the pain from his broken ribs was almost more than Tom could bear. It didn’t help that Alicia wasn’t quite naked; she was in her bra and panties, and she was trying to re-wrap the bandage around his chest, which hurt like a bandit. It also didn’t help that their little flat was stiflingly hot in the heat of a Washington summer. Both were sweating profusely.

“Does this hurt?” she asked with a smile. Of course it hurt he thought as she continued. “I broke a rib once as a kid when I fell off a horse. I will never forget how much pain it caused and how helpless anyone was to do anything about it.”

“Did anyone shoot the horse?”

“Of course not and, besides, it wasn’t mine. No, I just had to grin and bear it, although I didn’t do much grinning for a couple of weeks.”

Tom groaned. Doctor Crain had re-evaluated Tom’s injuries and pronounced them debilitating but not life-threatening. He’d been given a week off to feel sorry for himself and Crain had taught Alicia how to wrap his chest. Other than that, he’d said, there wasn’t anything that could be done. Crain added that Tom should avoid all contact sports, such as football and hockey, and should also try to stay out of wars.

Alicia had seconded that opinion. She was sick and tired of him getting hurt, and had even broached the idea of him either leaving the army or getting out of a potential combat arm. When he reminded her that there was a war on and that millions of young men didn’t have any choice as to their fate and future, she’d turned away and cried softly, which hadn’t helped matters at all.

“I don’t care if you get another medal or even get promoted to generalissimo. I just want you safe and sound.”

“Which is exactly what I want, but there are so many things that are beyond our control. I don’t like to think we’re just pawns, but I sometimes feel that’s exactly what we are. And so are people like Roosevelt and Marshall. They’re just pawns with bigger offices.”

She got off the bed, took off her bra and stepped out of her panties. Her lithe body shined with sweat. “Crain didn’t specifically say not to do this, but he did say I should watch out for any unusual swellings,” she said as she began to caress him. “Oh, look, there’s one now.”

“Is this going to hurt?” he said, gasping as she aroused him despite his injuries. Lord, she had learned quickly.

“It might, but you’ll never admit it.”

Henry Wallace was fifty-six years old and the thirty-third Vice President of the United States. He had held a number of government positions before being tapped by FDR to be his running mate in the 1940 election. He’d replaced John Nance Garner, who had managed to mightily annoy FDR.

Prior to that, Wallace had served as Secretary of Agriculture. He had, however, offended many who found his views on the Soviet Union to be naïve and utopian. Even though the USSR was an American ally, many felt that they and Stalin could not be trusted. Further rumors had developed alleging that he’d dabbled in strange religions in his younger days. As a result, the handwriting had been written large and clear on the wall. Henry A. Wallace would not be FDR’s running mate in the fall of 1944. That dubious honor belonged to Harry Truman, the obscure senator from Missouri. There were real fears that Roosevelt would not live until the next election in 1948 and that Henry Wallace was much too radical to be president should something happen to FDR.

Wallace’s term in office had been boring. His predecessor, John Nance Garner, had compared being vice president to a bucket of warm piss. Wallace would not argue. FDR clearly felt he didn’t need anyone but himself to run the nation. In Wallace’s opinion, the president was both devious and a liar, often pitting people against each other to keep them off balance. Even his most trusted advisors often had no clear idea just what he wanted. Nobody knew that much about Truman either, except that he was not controversial.

Well, he thought, come January twentieth of the New Year he would be free to pursue private activities like the one he’d just attended. He’d been asked to speak to a group of farmers about the future of American corn in the rebuilding of Europe once it was liberated. Of course, that was a long ways down the road. First, the U.S. had to liberate Ontario and that, from all that he could see, was not even beginning.

There was a knock on his hotel room door. Normally, his wife would answer it, but she’d stayed at home. Since the dinner and speech making were scheduled to go well into the night, he’d gotten a room for himself.

He padded across in his socks. He didn’t like the idea of anyone seeing him dressed so casually, but wasn’t about to get dressed again for what was likely a hotel employee.

“Who’s there?” he asked through the closed door.

“U.S. Army,” was the muffled response.

What now, he wondered as he opened the door. Two army officers stood before him. Before he could say anything he saw the two pistols they had pointed at him. They pushed their way in and shoved him onto a chair.

“Don’t say a word,” one of them said.

They stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth and quickly bound him with ropes. They pushed a couple of pillows against the side of his head and fired twice. The pillows muffled the sound, but did not stop the bullets from blasting Wallace’s brains all over the carpet.

Stahl and Krenz nodded. It was a job well done. They put the weapons back in their attaché cases, and, after lifting Wallace’s wallet and watch, left the room and walked down the hallway to the stairwell. Wallace’s suite had been on the eighth floor. They walked down to the fifth and took the elevator to the ground floor from there.

Once out on Sixteenth Street, they felt free to stop and catch their breath. Neither could believe that it had been so easy. The only security for the vice president had been the middle-aged and overweight hotel guard who was currently lounging in front of the check-in area.

“They might not find him before morning,” Krenz said and laughed.

“At which time I’ll be back in my apartment and you’ll be asleep in Baltimore.”

“And what shall we do for our next assault, Herr Stahl?”

“I’m thinking something higher,” he answered.

“Wonderful,” said Krenz. “The only person higher than Wallace would be Roosevelt himself. With him out of the way, the next president would be the Secretary of State, the sick and senile Cordell Hull. Hitler will rejoice if we can pull that off.”

Stahl was not at all certain that Hull was senile, but did not correct Krenz. Decapitating the leadership of the United States could certainly have a favorable impact on Germany’s war against the Jews and the communists.

The two men had worn American army uniforms they’d bought at a surplus store, and they had made them almost invisible. In Stahl’s opinion, it had been a stroke of genius.

The idea of taking Wallace’s wallet and watch would make the Americans hesitate as to the motive. Was it a simple robbery or an assassination? They would not be certain, which would leave the door open just a crack so they could use the same technique again.

It was imperative to him that the Fuhrer know that it had been the two of them who had killed Wallace. He would have to contact Neumann in Toronto. Using a short wave radio would be risky but worth it, far better than attempting to use a telephone. Lines to Canada were still open, but who knew who might be eavesdropping. The Reich had to know the blow he and Krenz had struck. Heil Hitler, he thought exultantly.

Tom and the others who’d gone to New York after the Wall Street massacre did not go to the hotel room where the vice president’s body had been found. FBI agent Richard Dunn had said he’d allow it if they insisted, but that there was nothing to be seen besides bloody furniture and a body missing much of its skull. They’d quickly concurred. They were not cops and would add nothing to any criminal investigation. Instead, they met in a small, dingy conference room at the FBI’s headquarters in the Department of Justice Building. The FBI wanted its own headquarters building and it was easy to see why.

Dunn looked at the small group. “Okay, let’s have a show of hands. How many think this was a robbery?” Not a hand went up. “Great. That makes it unanimous since nobody in this building does either. This was almost like a mob hit, except it wasn’t. Just to clear up that point, the Mafia and others had no reason to shoot Wallace, which is confirmed by the few people we have as snitches in their organizations. We’ve even received phone calls from mob leaders professing their ignorance and innocence.”

Incredible, thought Tom. “So I suppose the press release that it was a burglary emanated from your office?”

“Of course and it’ll hold up. There is a war on and the press will cooperate. Maybe a few decades from now some muckraker will find out something, but nobody’ll care. One way or another, the war will have been over and a dead vice president won’t matter.”

It was Alicia’s turn. “So who did it, Agent Dunn, Stahl?”

“We firmly think so. Several people at the hotel vaguely recall two army officers in the hotel around midnight. We showed them pictures of Stahl, and the hotel detective thinks he might have seen him enter the building. He didn’t think they were carrying weapons, although they clearly were, and he didn’t recognize any unit designations on their uniforms. Showing up in plain sight is a great disguise.”

“So what’s their next shot, no pun intended,” asked Downing. “With the success they’ve been having, I can’t see them running back to Berlin anytime soon.”

Dunn nodded solemnly. “We’ve given it a lot of thought, and the only idea that keeps popping up is that they’ll go for a bigger target. They’ve already upset the line of succession and now the Secretary of State is the acting vice president and next in line.”

Jesus, thought Tom. He grimaced from the pain his ribs were causing. “Back at the Pentagon, we thought the Nazis would go after either Marshall or King, but killing FDR would make a very ill Cordell Hull the President. God only knows what kind of trouble that sick old man might get us into before the next election.”

“Agreed,” Alicia said. “So we can assume that Roosevelt will be guarded more heavily than ever?”

Dunn laughed. “Believe it. And further believe that no one, including anyone in uniform, is going to get even close to him. Can we assume that the military will cooperate in the fiction?”

“Of course,” said Downing, slightly annoyed at the question. “We will be busy, you know, with the coming invasion of Ontario.”

“And just when will that happy event be?” asked Dunn.

“Sooner than many people realize,” was the answer he got.

FDR was well aware of his own mortality and the shaky line of succession. Like most normal people, he dismissed his own physical problems as trivial, but was concerned that Cordell Hull was now the de facto number two man in the nation. He was confident he could handle his own problems with his heart, but not Hull’s increasing weaknesses.

He found it annoying that there was no provision in the constitution to replace a dead vice president. That would have to be corrected, he thought. Instead, the succession fell to the Secretary of State, and that man was the failing Hull. Hull would have to be replaced, but by whom? Damn it to hell, he thought as he twirled and then sipped his special martini. He knew that a lot of his guests didn’t care for the concoction, but he did and that was all that mattered.

So if Hull goes, then who? He had originally thought to replace him with Ed Stettinius, but affable Ed was too much of a back-slapping lightweight.

Jim Byrnes had wanted the spot, but the ambitious Byrnes had also wanted to be vice president, replacing the deceased Wallace. He’d been bitterly disappointed when Roosevelt had chosen Harry Truman instead. Byrnes might just refuse outright and that would be embarrassing for his administration. He’d also thought of General Marshall but that man was too important for the war effort, especially with the invasion of Ontario just on the horizon.

What truly galled him was the fact that the Secretary of State was almost a figurehead in his administration. FDR very much liked being his own secretary and that would not be acceptable to strong men like Marshall, although a glad-hander like Stettinius might like it.

“Shit,” said the president.


Major General Edwin, “Pa,” Watson, his senior military aide and confidante was seated across from the president.

“I’m thinking and swearing out loud. I need someone to replace Hull at State until the inauguration in January when Harry Truman becomes the new vice president. That assumes,” he said with a loud laugh, “that I defeat Tom Dewey in November.”

“Of course you will, sir.”

Roosevelt did not respond to the obvious flattery. Watson was a war hero who’d been awarded the Silver Star in World War I, but that was a long, long time ago. Now the nickname “Pa,” which he’d picked up at West Point seemed very appropriate. Watson had become careless. He’d been accused of leaving highly sensitive information lying about which had resulted in both him and Roosevelt being kept ignorant of important matters until the matter had been cleared up. Being kept out of the intelligence loop had infuriated Roosevelt when he finally found out about it, but he recognized that Watson had become slipshod. Perhaps he too should be replaced? No, he decided. He needed a confidante in his office.

Suddenly, it occurred to him. “Truman!”


FDR laughed hugely. “Yes. I will make Harry Truman my new Secretary of State. That way he will be a viable number two until our election and inauguration at which time he can resign the post and I can appoint Stettinius without hurting anything. Isn’t that marvelously devious? Not only that, Truman has a reputation for being a blunt chap, so I will use him as a messenger to read the riot act to Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. He will tell them in no uncertain terms that they are not to interfere in any way with the food convoys.”

Watson smiled appreciatively. FDR loved being devious. “Does this mean that Truman will be more involved in decision making and other major matters?”

Roosevelt looked puzzled. “Why?”

The rumbling of artillery was a reminder that their days of inaction were running out. Literally thousands of pieces of artillery had opened up on the German defenses running the length of the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

The United States was finally going to invade, even though Canfield thought it was a slapdash operation. It was dogma that any attack on a hostile shore required naval support and heavy bombardment to succeed. Even though the gunfire along the river was enormous, the shells were landing nowhere near where the attack would commence. The shelling of Canada along the river was a diversion. Canfield hoped to Jesus that the Germans would fall for it. He also hoped that not too many Canadians were dying as a result of it, but were there any other options? The enormity of the operation meant that it was impossible to keep a secret. German spotter planes routinely flew overhead, radioing in their information and taking pictures. Some were shot down but there were always enough brave souls to take up any slack.

Canfield rode in the cab of a truck leading a long column of vehicles, all headed towards Lake Erie. There he had the first of a number of surprises. Hundreds of landing craft of all types and sizes were arrayed on the beaches to the west of Buffalo and on the lake. Some could carry a platoon of infantry, while others a tank. Long columns of soldiers snaked towards them while other soldiers functioned as traffic cops and guided them to their proper craft.

Dubinski looked around in disbelief. “If this works, it’ll be a first. There’s just too many people for this to all go right.” He looked at his watch. “Hell, we’re already half a day late.”

Canfield totally agreed, but kept silence. He would not let anyone know his doubts. They were supposed to have arrived just before dawn, but now it was after noon. They were supposed to have mounted up and gotten across the short portion of lake to their goal, the tiny Canadian village of Port Maitland. Two divisions of infantry, all under the command of Lloyd Fredendall were to land and move inland with a third in reserve. It would land in a day or two. This would put more than fifty thousand men in the rear of the two German armies. The Germans would either have to withdraw from their strongpoints along the Niagara River, or weaken their defensive forces and attack Fredendall’s corps. Germans to the west facing Patton would also be threatened by the enemy in their rear. If all went well, they could strike a decisive blow in the liberation of Canada.

Of course, Canfield thought, when did things go well?

Many of the landing craft did not have the range to get to the site and back. They would be towed by larger ships, many of which had artillery parked on their decks, making them look a lot like old men of war from the days of fighting sail. Nobody cared. Just as long as they worked and kept the Germans’ heads down.

When the landing occurred, the artillery would be loaded onto the smaller boats and taken ashore. Additional infantry were stuffed in the holds of the transports.

After several more hours, they got on their landing craft and the boats moved out in long lines, all pulled by a civilian transport ships. Some of the troops commented that it looked like a mother duck and her ducklings, while others changed the pronunciation of duck to something more appropriate.

Fortunately, the lake was calm with waves of only a foot or so. Despite that, many men jammed in Canfield’s Higgins Boat got seasick. Most were able to vomit into the lake, but a few didn’t make it which sickened the rest. As befitting his rank, Canfield stayed close to a good spot and managed to hurl his meal into the water and not onto his troops.

He was concerned that the tiny craft was practically unarmed, with only a pair of .30 caliber machine guns for protection, along with whatever weapons their leading transport carried. American warplanes flew overhead, but there was always the possibility that a kraut plane could sneak through and strafe the helpless column, turning boatloads of men into bloody pulp.

Targets on land were in range of the converted gunboats and their artillery opened up on the dimly visible shore. Flashes of light and smoke showed where the shells hit and, seconds later, the sounds washed over them.

“It’s gonna be dark soon,” Dubinski said with a mastery of the obvious. “What the hell we gonna do then, chief?”

Canfield gasped and spat over the side. He’d been reduced to dry heaves. “When the general wants me to know, he’ll tell me.”

To himself he wondered which would be worse - floundering around all night in the middle of Lake Erie or trying to find their landing site in the dark and maybe winding up miles from their target. Nor did he feel envy for the men in the holds of the transports.

The answer came soon enough. There would be no nighttime landing. The landing craft lashed themselves together to provide some stability while their mother ship dropped anchor. The men were cursing and Canfield joined them. They would spend all night bobbing up and down and puking. They would be in fine shape to fight the Germans tomorrow. Worse, this would provide the Germans with another twelve hours in which to react. Damn it to hell.

This had been First Lieutenant Ted Landry’s second attack from the sea, which is what he facetiously called Lake Erie, and, for a paratrooper, was at least two too many. He’d been taught to jump out of airplanes, not slither through sand and mud, although, as a Ranger, he was trained to do both.

All of his men had made it ashore, a far cry from the terrible feeling he’d felt just before the attack on the Blue Water Bridge at Sarnia when he realized that one of his men was missing. He could barely remember the guy’s name. Oh yeah, Laughton. The poor man’s body had never been found, not that there was much of an opportunity to look very hard.

His small company of seventy men was about ten miles inland. They’d landed stealthily and without incident, using rubber boats powered by outboard motors that had been towed by PTs. He’d been able to report back that the area around Port Maitland was, as expected, largely undefended. He also reported that there were no large enemy concentrations inland either. Apparently the Germans were focused on the Niagara River line, which meant that a quick thrust by the invading GIs could put an entire army in their rear. But it would not happen this night, he concluded sadly. The bombardment had begun too late, although he wondered just what were they bombarding since there were no German defenses for several miles to either side of the target area.

It occurred to him that maybe the Germans thought the coming attack was a feint. He hoped it wasn’t. He and his men were primed and ready. Landry also felt that Port Maitland, just a speck of a town, wasn’t a bad place to land as it was connected to civilization by a network of well-maintained dirt roads. One led towards the Welland Canal and Buffalo, while another twisted north to Hamilton. A quick and strong move towards Hamilton might just cut off the entire German army at Niagara. Other roads led west towards the Nazi’s lines, but the Germans were too far away to be an immediate concern.

Landry’s company was arrayed in the fields on both sides of the road leading to Hamilton, which was somewhat larger than a speck at ten thousand souls. He doubted that more than a couple of hundred people lived in Port Maitland.

As darkness fell, he felt that an opportunity to dash into the German army’s rear had been wasted. He just hoped that his men’s lives weren’t going to be wasted.

“Company’s coming,” yelled one of his lookouts. His men scrambled to their positions. They were dug in and well concealed by growing crops of wheat and corn.

A short column of five vehicles moved down the road. The first vehicle was a four passenger Kubelwagen, the German equivalent of a jeep. The other vehicles were General Motors trucks that had clearly been commandeered by the Germans and painted with Wehrmacht markings.

Landry’s men were on either side of the road and arrayed in a shallow V. He used his walky-talky to communicate his plans to his second in command on the other side of the road.

The Germans drew closer, driving slowly, but without apparent concern. Their headlights were out in deference to American planes which further slowed them.

When the Germans were about a hundred yards away, Landry ordered his men to open fire. Rifle and machine gun bullets from both sides of the road ripped through the Kubelwagen and the soft cloth sides of the trucks. He could hear the Germans scream as they died. Some tumbled out of their vehicles and fired wildly before they were cut down, while others, smarter, fled into the fields. He thought a couple of them might have gotten away, but it didn’t matter. The German command would know about this soon enough. He did a count and he’d suffered no casualties. Other than those who might have escaped, there were no German survivors. The couple of Nazi wounded they’d captured died of their wounds within a few minutes.

The German dead were searched and weapons were taken. The krauts had good machine guns and now Landry owned a couple of them, along with a supply of ammunition. Two of the trucks actually still ran and he had those driven off and hidden. They might become useful and Rangers were supposed to be resourceful. Maybe they could drive the damned things right into Toronto? The German dead were dumped into the other trucks and were pushed out of sight, while the debris was picked up before they set up the ambush again. He felt like a spider repairing its web after snaring a fly, a big fat Nazi fly.

Damn, it felt good to hit the pricks.

Eisenhower was livid. “What do you mean we’re not going in, Brad? What the hell is going on out there?”

Lieutenant General Omar Bradley commanded three army corps, one of which was Fredendall’s. It consisted of three division infantry divisions, and he too had just been informed that the attack had been canceled, called on account of darkness.

“An amphibious assault is not a baseball game,” snarled Ike. "It doesn’t get called on account of darkness.”

“Ike, I’m as shocked as you are. Of course nothing ever goes totally right, so I’m not surprised that the invasion got off to a late start, but I don’t get the order to stand down and have the troops sit all night in the middle of Lake Erie.”

“Have you spoken to him? Is he on the coast or still at Fort Fredendall?”

Bradley winced. The men in Fredendall’s command had taken to calling his overly fortified headquarters by that disparaging name. “As near as I can tell, he’s en route from Niagara to someplace south and west of Buffalo.”

Ike angrily lit a cigarette and glowered. “All of which means he’s out of touch and probably doesn’t really know what the hell is going on. Did you tell him that he should take the chance and land at night? If there are no Germans in the area, it should be safe and any confusion caused by the darkness can be fixed rather quickly.”

“I did and he reminded me that he was the commander on the ground and that he had a better sense of things than I did. He added that there have already been skirmishes between his Rangers and Germans headed to the landing site and he feels that major forces are coming right on their tail. I didn’t like the lecture, but it’s something I would normally agree with. Right now, though, we may be missing an opportunity.”

“What does General Truscott think?”

Bradley suppressed a smile. Along with being a highly regarded war planner, Truscott had been instrumental in forming the Army Ranger units currently in the field, both in Ontario and in the Pacific.

“Off the record, Lucian managed to contact one of his boys, a Lieutenant Landry, and he was told that nothing was happening. No major German forces were moving towards Port Maitland. He said that if we strike hard and fast, we can be ashore and well inland before the krauts know we’ve come knocking.”

“So it’s up to Fredendall to get his men ashore and moving inland as quickly as possible. Brad, do you think he will do it?”

“I honestly don’t know. This is his first major command and, like all of us, he’s never had so much responsibility. Even though he’s a favorite of Marshall’s and a legendary fire-breather, I really don’t know what he’s capable of when the chips are down.”

Ike nodded. This had proven to be a dilemma for all the armed services. Men who’d performed brilliantly in peacetime weren’t necessarily good war leaders. Trouble was, nobody knew until the fighting started. Careers had already been destroyed. Admiral Kimmel had been sacked because of his performance at Pearl Harbor along with General Short, and Admiral Ghormley had been relieved for lack of leadership in the fighting for the Solomon Islands. Would Fredendall be the next?

Nobody wanted to point out that the swaggering Fredendall had never led men in combat because so many other generals, Ike included, hadn’t either.

“All right,” Ike said softly, “we keep a close watch on Fredendall and be ready to move if we have to. He may be Marshall’s first mistake. Correction, I may have been his first. Tell Lucian Truscott to be packed and ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

False dawn arrived and the landing craft were cut loose as soon as the shore could be seen. Even though they were heading into the unknown, the men were relieved that they were no longer sitting like children’s toys in a very large tub. Those whose stomachs would let them ate c-rations, while others just tried to act calm.

Canfield and Dubinski looked around at the clearing sky. “We should have been halfway to Toronto,” Dubinski said. “I should have been on my way to some really good Canadian beer.”

Canfield agreed but only grunted a response. He kept his eyes on the sky and on the boats carrying the men of his battalion as they moved towards the shore with agonizing slowness. We are so vulnerable, he thought.

Just then, anti-aircraft guns on the transports opened up, sending tracers towards targets low on the horizon. Canfield saw them, a wave of German fighters skimming the lake not more than twenty feet above the water.

Armed with machine guns, rockets, 20mm cannon, and bombs, they opened fire as soon as they were within range. Canfield watched in hopeless horror as the tiny landing craft were strafed. He ducked as shells struck his boat. Men screamed both from terror and pain. He raised his head in time to see one plane’s rockets slam into a transport. He moaned as he recalled how many men were jammed inside.


The cry snapped him back to reality. He checked the men. Two were dead and three others were wounded. One had his leg ripped off by a bullet and another had been gutted. His intestines lay like an obscene snake on the bottom of the boat.

Canfield sensed that the craft was wallowing. Leaving the wounded to be cared for by medics, he went to where the young sailor driving the boat sat. He was transfixed by the bloody carnage. Bodies were in the water around them and men were swimming, waving for help. A bomb had hit a transport and it was sinking. Heavily laden soldiers were trying to jump into the lake.

“Where the hell are you taking us?” Canfield snarled.

The sailor was wide eyed with terror. “Out of here. Anyplace.”

Canfield grabbed him and slapped him across the face. “You take us to land, you understand? Then you come back and pick up anybody you can.”

The sailor blinked, as if waking up from a terrible dream. “Got it, sir. Sorry.”

Minutes later, they spilled ashore. The German planes had disappeared, chased by American fighters. The Germans had lost planes, but they had savaged at least a portion of the invasion force.

Canfield ordered them off the beach. Like it or not they had to go inland. Additional Americans would be landing very shortly and congestion on the beachhead had to be limited. He’d gotten reports and the casualties weren’t as bad as he had feared. Only seven dead and fifteen wounded out of his battalion of more than eight hundred plus. Only, he thought ruefully. What would it be like when they made serious contact with the enemy?

A company of Sherman tanks rumbled by, kicking up dust. Now they were beginning to look like a real army. His radioman called him over. He took the phone from the backpack. It was the division commander.

“Exactly where are you and what’s your status?” Canfield was asked. He gave the answer to the best of his knowledge. They were two to three miles inland and facing no opposition. They had crossed a cratered moonscape created by the shelling. The shelling had accomplished absolutely nothing since there had been nothing to destroy.

“Fantastic. Now colonel, do you know what a laager is?”

“A type of beer?” he responded, dreading the explanation he knew was coming.

The general laughed bitterly, “No, you asshole. A laager is when a military force circles the wagons and that’s exactly what you are to do. Pull in your battalion, circle the wagons and prepare to defend against a major German attack that HQ feels is imminent and that could come from any direction.”

“With respects, general, that’s ridiculous. I just came down from a second floor roof of a farmhouse and saw nothing. I have men up in trees trying to spot Nazis and they’ve seen nothing either. Sir, I’m convinced we can advance for quite some time before running into any Germans, and isn’t that the point? Aren’t we supposed to get in their rear and cut them off?”

Canfield could hear the general’s sigh. “That was the plan, but plans change. III Corps is fearful that we will be cut to pieces by a sudden German attack, just like we were by their planes this morning.”

Canfield caught the word fearful. Was the general saying that the higher command was afraid, a pack of cowards? “How much latitude do I have?”

“Not much at all unless you want to lose touch with the units on your flanks. Find some decent ground, and yes I know the land is flat, dig in and call it a day.”

The general hung up. Dubinski stood beside Canfield. “We’re fucked again, aren’t we, chief?”